Israeli Air Power: Bombs on YouTube
by Helga Tawil-Souri — New York University
March 31, 2009 – 00:24
After the apparent public relations failure (and, arguably, military failure) of Israel’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, the Israeli military took one lesson with it to Gaza: the importance of new media to simultaneously wage a propaganda war alongside a military one. On December 29, 2008, two days after the start of the war, the Israeli military launched a YouTube channel to disseminate footage of bombing operations in the Gaza Strip, as well as aid distribution, interviews with military officials, and other footage. As Israeli Foreign Press Branch head Major Avital Leibovich claimed, ‘the new media are another war zone… We have to be relevant there.’
Most of the footage is of precision aerial bombings of (supposedly) Hamas targets such as buildings and roads, in relatively low-quality video. In this video clip – silent, black-and-white and grainy – men are allegedly loading Grad missiles onto a Hamas pick-up truck. Moments later they are obliterated by an air strike. It is difficult to validate claims of either legitimate targets or relief trucks headed for Gaza. One must simply believe the content at face-value, since there is no context provided beyond the minimal text supplied by the military. Major Leibovich commented that such video footage ought not to be disturbing to viewers: ‘the intelligent audience watching the footage will know that people killed did not have peaceful intentions toward Israel. I don’t believe they’ll be disturbed…’
Regardless of one’s personal reaction to the clips (I, for one, was disturbed), they are indicative of the latest phase in Israel’s ongoing military and public relations superiority. The YouTube channel bespeaks of Israel’s need to promote its military campaigns to the mediated/technological realm, thereby targeting a wider, more international, and younger audience. It also represents Israel’s latest attempt at branding itself and its wars: on the one hand Israel continues to boast of its military superiority; on the other, the state is well aware of international accusations that it often responds disproportionately to Palestinian armed struggle. Footage of precision bombing, saving humanitarian trucks making their way into Gaza and obliterating militants reveal Israel’s two-pronged branding approach: demonstrate its military superiority and morality in contrast to Hamas’ lack thereof.
The new media strategy ought to be understood within the larger practice of the Israel’s ‘vertical control’ over Palestinians – everything from settlements constructed on hills, to complete control of the airwaves over the Territories. Both real and YouTube-broadcast bombings are extensions of Israel’s policies of owning the space above Palestinians. Only by maintaining a bird’s eye panoptic view of Palestinians can Israel continue to construct them as terrorists by whose elimination we ought not be ‘disturbed.’